Now thoroughly be-muscled and sporting long blond hair, Toronto-based indie musician Christian Hansen looks a far cry from his days making art-pop in Edmonton. It’s a little ironic, that in the city where Hansen got his start he played chirpy and sensory music for hipsters and—now that he’s in Toronto—he’s turned his efforts towards what he calls “outlaw country.”
This shift, which came with a change in monicker to Baby Drayton, began last year. The folk/roots/Americana effort broke out with “Shia LaBeouf,” a downplayed guitar ditty whose music video featured its namesake—literally the guy from Even Stevens—bearing a strained smile as the song is sung to him. On June 17, Baby Drayton released its debut EP, titled Money, and will play the Aviary in Edmonton on July 6.
“I think that this music, the more kind of folk-inspired stuff … is really the music I grew up listening to. It was the first music I was exposed to,” he says. “I just reached a point when I needed to take a break from the synth-pop stuff and the electronic stuff.”
The project has a sense of playfulness, much like Hansen’s other projects, but the musician’s distinct voice cast over austere, guitar-led country is also an examination of masculinity—which parts are useful and which aren’t.
Hansen is, now, a buff dude with long hair and a guitar. Just on paper, these are fairly stereotypically masculine characteristics, but the album, even at its most sincere, has a level of levity to it.
According to Hansen, the project’s somewhat more rustic lyricism coincided with the stark shift in his personal aesthetics. Post leaving Edmonton, he felt like he needed to switch everything up, he says—a lot of it had to do with the feeling that his earlier projects, under Christian Hansen, had run their course.
That’s not entirely true, though, he says. Thanks to the algorithms of Spotify and other music services, Christian Hansen’s late-2000s – early 2010s work is seeing new life and getting new attention in the United States and Europe, he says.
But, at least for now, those poppier motifs in his work are taking a backseat.
“There’s a lot of emotion attached to that. There was a lot of ‘What could I have done differently?’” he says.
Playing his older work live was also extremely taxing and physically exhausting he says, as the shows were so intense and “sweaty.”
“I get off stage and I don’t feel like I want to die,” he says. “That’s just a little factor of it.”
Hansen began writing the EP’s four songs back in 2013, just as a side thing, and finally recorded them in Paris with long-time collaborator and fellow former Edmontonian Doug Organ. The last track on the record, “Leather Jacket,” was written only a couple of months ago, however.
Like most of his songs, there’s a biographical component but they’re also composites of other people’s stories and outright fiction. “The Bunny & the Snake” is a sentimental piece about the stuff he’s been working through. Using the image of a father’s motorcycle, he explores the idea of legacy, specifically what gets passed down from father and son, and what doesn’t.
As much as parents are parents, Hansen says, they’ve lived their own lives with much of it completely separate from their children.
“Your father was your father, but he was a person all to himself out there in the world,” Hansen says.
The album’s title track is a bit more straightforward. Asking for money at the end of playing a set is a “weird dance” for musicians, he says. Any artist knows the awkwardness of waiting around for a manager to get paid and fretting that maybe you didn’t suss out the financial details before the show or you’re not even sure who to talk to.
“It’s about getting clear with your relation with money,” he says. “People will try and run you around a bit unless you are clear.”
In the end, though, Baby Drayton is an organic way for Hansen to make music in a simple and manageable way again. Musically, it’s a departure from the raucous synths and catchy chants that were Hansen’s hallmark in Edmonton, but to him, it’s not all that different.
“It may seem like a giant shift, but to me it’s like ‘A song is a song is a song,’” he says.
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